“Without Design, or Fate, or Force”: Why Couldn’t John Evelyn Complete the Elysium Britannicum?

  • Michael LeslieEmail author
Conference paper
Part of the Trends in the History of Science book series (TRENDSHISTORYSCIENCE)


Despite living for 50 years after beginning his “Elysium Britannicum” in the 1650s, John Evelyn (1620–1706) failed to complete what was meant to be a masterwork on gardens. The exceptionally complex manuscript left behind was only published in a heroic edition by John Ingram in 2000. Why did Evelyn embark on the work and why didn’t he complete it? This essay suggests that the initial project developed in a uniquely unstable intellectual, religious, and political moment, in which Evelyn felt free to respond to neo-Epicurean physics and philosophy. As order returned, Evelyn found himself unable to accept the worldview implied by neo-Epicureanism but also unwilling to publish a revised version that denied conclusions his contemporaries were coming to accept. Evelyn’s response is contrasted with that of the plant anatomist Nehemiah Grew (1641–1712), who was also aware of the radical implications of neo-Epicureanism, but whose social and religious circumstances were markedly different.


Royal Society Seventeenth Century Magnum Opus Intellectual Culture Patron Saint 
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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.MemphisUSA

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